Insatiable Need For More Sources Drives IP Demand In Live Production
With each new technology transition – from SD to HD to 4K – remote production truck companies in the U.S. have been at the forefront, providing clients with the latest production tools to expand their production capabilities and make live sports and entertainment telecasts the best they can be.
Yet, deploying the latest Internet Protocol (IP) technology to support 4K UHD and other non-traditional production elements is being done out of necessity. Live productions need more capacity for the ever-increasing amount of signals (high-resolution signals, more cameras, graphics, microphones, SloMo angles, etc.) that are critical to a major live telecast.
This is in light of the fact that no one yet has a clear understanding of a business model for 4K, which benefits from an IP backbone. It costs the client more because it costs the production company more (the equipment is more expensive). On the TV screen the resulting images look sharper, especially when high dynamic range (HDR)-capable equipment is used, but the ad dollars to support it are not yet there.
Undeterred, these veteran production companies are now to rolling out the next generation of IP-enabled television production trucks: complete with 4K video, 5.1 surround sound, augmented reality graphics, 4K slow-motion units and routers that can handle hundreds more signals than they could before. At the heart of these new rigs is an IP production workflow that facilitates a variety of benefits in flexibility and quality. It also allows a crewmember to sit down at a workstation and call up and take control of any source in the truck. And there is redundancy built in, so every device has two paths to its destination.
These trucks are not easy to build and cost more than a third more than a similarly equipped HD truck. On the plus side, many of the key production pieces (cameras, slow-motion replay units, and video monitors) are now available for a variety of manufacturers in the industry. A typical IP truck now has over 1,200 individual signals that need to be routed during major telecasts like the NFL Super Bowl and the MLB World Series. In addition, from a physical perspective, the IP network core is around an eighth of the size of a classical SDI system. With 24 rack units instead of three racks it is a big weight difference.
Baseband signals are converted with an IP Gateway card that packetizes the SDI signal and sends it along to its desired destination via an IP router. This allows production staff to handle many more sources than a standard baseband SDI router can, in a smaller frame.
This type of on-board infrastructure also allows a production company to remotely control the truck from another location without an on-board crew, when necessary. This saves their clients money.
Manufacturers of cameras, switchers, replay systems, are eager to offer the required equipment and have shown prototypes at various trade shows, but everyone is waiting for ratification of what’s being called SMPTE ST 2110 specification for videoover- IP production. SMPTE ST 2110 augments the already standardized SMPTE 2022-6 spec for video over IP and defines a transport and timing protocol for A/V and metadata. But, unlike 2022-6, the main idea is to split the signals into independent essences.
This approach makes audio processing much easier since no de-embedding or re-embedding is required. ST 2110 is composed of a number of existing standards including AES67 for uncompressed audio, RTC 4175, which defines video and SMPTE 2059 for clock synchronization. Splitting the video out reduces both bandwidth and latency since processing can begin at the receiving end without waiting until the complete frame has arrived.
As more IP production trucks are built, the workflows will become more mature and live events like sports will benefit from the flexibility they bring. Until then, production companies will continue to use SDI signals workflows. And that’s okay, because clients want to work the same way they always have.
What’s become clear is that whether mobile production companies use baseband or IP, its key for their client not to have to think about the engineering. They just want to push a button and it works. The goal is to make the trucks feel like a traditional SDI production truck. Production staff should not feel an operational difference because it is IP underneath. The underlying infrastructure though is completely different and that provides some very helpful flexibility.
As broadcasters strive to deliver the high-quality viewing experience that audiences desire, IP provides the scale and agility required to create increased volumes of premium content more efficiently. And as the number of sources continues to rise, IP technology will help in a wide variety of ways to make productions more efficient and able to reach far beyond their four walls.